Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Andi's Pony trouble

by Susan K. Marlow
61 pages / 2010

This was a very popular book in our family – it's a book about ponies and horses, so what's not for a little girl to love?

Andi is a 5-year-old girl, going on 6, who dreams of owning her very own horse. This is a much more realistic possibility for her than many girls today, since Andi lives on a farm in the West in the 1870s. She already has a pony, named Coco, but she doesn't appreciate him like she should - Coco can only trot, and that not fast enough for Andi's liking. So, since she's just about 6, Andi thinks her birthday would be just the right time for her mom to give her a horse.

That's the set-up, and of course there has to be some difficulties along the way. So as little Andi tries to prove she's big enough for a horse everything goes wrong. The author, Susan Marlow, does a good job of interjecting some comedy throughout - at one point Andi ends up with eggs on her head, and that, along with the illustration by Leslie Gammelgaard, had our girls giggling.

The author is Christian, and it shows – one clear lesson taught in the book is that parents are to be respected, and children don't know everything. Andi doesn't understand why her mother won't let her have a horse, but by books' end she comes to understand her mom knew best all along. Andi also gets into some minor naughtiness, but afterwards asks her mom, and her pony Coco, for forgiveness.

Our daughters loved Andi's ambition and adventurous spirit, and that made this a fun read for me too – it's always great to come along for the ride as our kids laugh their way through a book.

There are 11 pictures spread throughout, which helped make this a visual enough read for our just about 5-year-old who doesn't normally have much patience for anything other than picture books. I'd recommend it for 5 to 8. The only downside is that our horse-crazy girls are now even more so!

You can buy a copy of Andi's Pony Trouble at here and at here.

Other books in the series

There are 5 other books in the series, and so far we've had a chance to read 4 of them. While I'll give a "two thumbs up" rating to the first, I've started having a problem with the way the author lets us hear Andi's thoughts. Andi knows she shouldn't say disrespectful things, so for the most part she doesn't. But she thinks them quite a lot... and that means there really is quite a bit of disrespectful dialogue in these stories. I think we'll still read the whole series since my daughters do really love them, and aside from the internal back talk Andi is quite fun. But I own the first and am not feeling the need to compete the set. Checking out the rest from the library is good enough.

I will also add one reservation about Andi's Indian Summer. This is the second book in the series and quite fun. However, in an attempt to teach kids not to be racist the author downplays the caution children should have around strangers. Andi and her friend Riley get lost and a helpful Indian man meets them. First he tells them they have to come with him. They protest, and say they have to go back because Andi's mom will be worried. Then he tells them he knows Andi's mom and she would be fine with him taking them back to his home.
"Andi and Riley looked at each other. This Indian was not taking no for an answer"
The author wants children not to be fearful around Indians. Fine and good. But what about strangers? I was reading this to my 4 and 6 year old, so I interrupted the story to explain that even if someone tells them "I know your mom and she says it would be okay" they need to come to me or their mom to check. I might be making too much of this – Andi was well and truly lost, so she didn't have much of an option. But this stranger was giving just the sort of charming, ready answers that I want to prepare my daughters to ignore. So this is not a book that a young child should read on their own – it needs mommy or daddy to do some explaining.

We've enjoyed Andi's Fair Surprise (about the family heading to the State Fair). Andi wants to bring her baby horse Taffy to the fair, to exhibit, just like her brothers are doing with cows and calves. But she's not allowed to. That gets her grumpy, but she learns in the end that you know what, Mom knows what she's talking about – will wonders never cease! This is a good fun little story that our daughters really enjoyed.

In Andi's Scary School Days Andi heads to school for the first time and doesn't want to go. The lesson Andi learns here is that school is not so bad after all. Good lesson for kids who are scared of school or hate it – not such a great thought to put in the heads of children looking forward to school.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Big Goose and the Little White Duck

by Meindert DeJong
169 pages / 1938

It all begins with a big boy buying his mother a big goose for her birthday present – she's always wanted one for a pet. But there is just one problem: to buy the goose he had to borrow money from his gruff grandfather.

Now the grumpy old man was more than happy to loan the money but only because he misunderstood what the big boy intended. He thought the boy was buying it for his birthday – for his eighty-eighth birthday just a few months away. He thought the big boy was buying it so that grampa could, for the first time in his long life, have a taste of roast goose.

So when they get the big goose home the grandfather stakes his own claim to the goose. He is going to eat it...unless the goose proves to be useful around the farm in some way.

This was a great read-out-loud book to share with my young daughters. Meindert DeJong keeps his sentences quite short, but there is a rhythm to them, and a flow from one to the next. The big goose is an excitable character, and the grandfather likes to bellow, which means that I got to be loud too. There is a lot of energy in this book so long as the reader is willing to let himself go and just scream and shout right along with this goose and this grump.

Now, if there is a villain in this piece, it is basically the grandfather, which struck me as a bit strange. I was also a bit leery because there are many books where the dad is just a big dumb goof, and this has a little bit of that, with the grandfather filling in for the dumb dad role (the boy's father is absent without explanation). But I think that would only be a worry if grandfathers started to become a common villain in more books. That it happens this one time is really not a problem – my girls were able to understand that grandfathers have a special role, and deserve respect, and need love, even if this grumpy gus wasn't really living up to any of that.

DeJong was an accomplished writer, winning both the Hans Christian Anderson and Newbery awards for children's literature, so while this is an oldie (1938!) it remains an absolute must-read. If mom or dad are reading it, this is good for ages 4 and up. If the child is reading it, this is at least a late Grade One book, and maybe more of a Grade Two title.

You can buy a copy at by clicking here and at here. Canadians can also get it here at where many other Dutch heritage children's books can be found.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith

by Barnabas Piper
174 pages / 2015

N. D. Wilson's foreword to this book ends with the words "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. And so it will be until the graves are emptied."

If this is the struggle you are going through (and I think it is for all Christians who are honest with themselves), this book will help. Barnabas Piper (yes, the son of that Piper) knows that kind of struggle himself. He makes clear, as did John Huss, that we show unbelief every time we sin.

Of course, many go through different types of unbelief - more intellectual, more emotional, more the result of bewilderment with God's work (including the presence of suffering) in their lives. Piper deals with these various types of unbelief by answering such questions as "What is belief?"; "Where does the prayer to seek help with our unbelief come from in the first place"; and "How do we believe?"

This is not a how-to book. Rather, Piper wants us to face our unbelief squarely, as did the father who first asked Jesus Christ to help him with his unbelief. Piper asserts that admitting our unbelief deepens our faith when we take our struggle before God.

Even though Piper is not writing an instruction manual, he does give some very good guidance in the appendices - one about how to read the Bible to meet God, and the other a list of books that will make our Bible reading and prayer richer.

If you think that Barnabas Piper's book could help your unbelief, you can get the book here at and here at

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

True Right

Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada
by Michael Wagner
128 pages / 2016

Feeling like you're the last true conservative left in Justin Trudeau's Canada? Then you need to read Michael Wagner's True Right and find out that all through Canada's history great, solid, courageous conservative men have stood up to the socialist hordes.

I've worked with Michael Wagner on the magazine Reformed Perspective, for years now, and always enjoyed his articles, so I knew this was going to be good. He set himself the ambitious task of laying out what makes a true conservative conservative, and took his inspiration from a long-time leader in Western Canada, the writer, editor and all around troublemaker (in the best possible sense), Ted Byfield.

So what then is a true conservative?

Someone who knows who God really is, and knows the government ain't Him.

And what exactly is in the book? It's divided into 17 short biographies of political leaders who shaped Western Canada. Wagner explains why some were true conservatives and some weren't. There's controversy to be had in the "weren't" camp, where the author places some big and well-loved names...but his reasoning is hard to argue with. Among the 13 "were"s most readers will find a pleasant surprise or two, meeting stalwart gentlemen who they'd not previously known. What an encouragement to hear that we’re not alone! Yes, even in Canada there have always been true conservatives, good and godly men, who were willing to stand up and fight, win or lose.

You might differ with Wagner on some of his assessments – I think in noting these men's strengths, he's sometimes overlooked a notable shortcoming or two – but you'll most certainly come away encouraged. True conservatives are a rarity in Canada, but as Wagner shows, there have been some who have fought big battles and, win or lose, have remained true to God.

You can pick up a copy in Canada at or, in the US, at

RELATED REVIEW: Another by Michael Wagner

The perfect book to give to a high school graduate: Michael is Right

Monday, December 5, 2016

Wire Mothers

Harry Harlow and the Science of Love
by Jim Ottaviani and Dylan Meconis
84 pages / 2007

Many horrors have been done in the name of science. Wire Mothers is the story of how Harry Hawlow combatted one of them.

Now this "horror" might not seem all that horrible. In the first half of the 20th century, psychologists were warning parents not to show too much affection to their children. That doesn't seem so crazy; after all, we don't want to spoil them

But this is how one prominent psychologist put it, "Never hug and kiss them." What? Really?

Yup. American Psychological Association President John B. Watson encouraged parents to shake hands with their children rather than hug. That really was being promoted!

This is misinformation that Christians at that time should have been able to see through. since there is a lot of kissing and embracing going on in the Bible (just think of Jesus' story of the prodigal son being embraced by his father).

Many in the world swallowed this pseudo-science whole, but scientist and psychologist Henry Harlow wasn't one of them. He was Jewish, and doesn't seem to have been Christian (at least, not from what this book shares), but he did understand that parents hugging their children wasn't the problem it was being made out to be. In fact, he knew it was a good thing and set out to prove it, using monkeys.

Harlow rigged up an experiment in which monkey babies were "raised" by two surrogate "mothers" – each surrogate was a simple wireframe monkey body, with no arms or legs, topped with a simple-looking head. On the first "mother" they included a milk bottle inside the wireframe, with the bottle nipple situated so the baby monkey could cling to the wire and suckle at this "breast." The second mother had the same wireframe body and simple head, but didn't have a bottle. Instead it had soft terry cloth wrapped around the wire body.

So which "mother" did the baby have an emotional response to? The one that fed it, or the one with the terry cloth body?

While the baby monkey would feed on the "bottle mother" it would spend less than an hour a day on it, quickly returning to the cloth mother afterwards, where it would spend as many as 17 hours per day cuddling. As pale an imitation as this was to a mother's cuddling – this cloth surrogate had no arms to hold the monkey baby – it was a great deal better than the bare wire body of the first surrogate mom.

Harlow also discovered that when a frightening stimulus was brought into the setting – a noisy wooden creature – the monkey would go to the cloth mother. And, after seeking comfort, it would then feel secure enough to go investigate this clanking noisy creature. Harlow showed that if a monkey was to learn, it needed affection and comfort and cuddling, even if only from this surrogate mother.

The first time I read this graphic novel, I was suspicious that this might have an evolutionary bias to it. After all, this was a book about the scientific take on love, and it involved experiments on monkeys, and applied those findings to humans. It seemed to assume that monkeys and Mankind were related.

While Harry Harlow probably had evolutionary beliefs, his findings are just as useful to Christians. Facts are facts, and the fact is, both monkeys, and people, do a lot better when we are hugged, held, and kissed. An evolutionist might assume that monkeys and men have this common need for touch because we are related, but a Christian we know that this is a matter of us both having a common Designer. God is love, so it it any wonder that love is also apparent in the animals kingdom? No, not at all.

Rather than bolstering evolution, this story highlights what happens when we have science untethered from God. Why did these scientists convince so many not to hug their children? Because the world listened more to these supposed experts than to what God says in his Word. And that's never a good idea.


I'll note a couple of language cautions: "crap" and "stupid ass." In the interest of thoroughness, I'll also note that while this isn't remotely titillating, there is a depiction of what might be the side of a naked woman, though with all the key bits covered up. There is also an episode in which Harlow gets rescued by a group of drunk navy sailors who sing (in the background) "I love to go swimming with bow-legged women, and swim between their legs." Any kid old enough to read this will not be impacted by either of these two concerns.


This is a great one for adults and older teens. It's important that both we and our children remember the many times and many ways that all-knowing "Science" has messed up in the past. As Wire Mothers shows, there are many scientists who are making pronouncements that go far beyond their findings. So, this small comic is actually quite an important book.

You can pick up a copy here at and here at Using our links to buy these or any other books helps support our site, as Amazon sends us a dime or two at no cost to you.

RELATED REVIEWS: Graphic novels about science